July 28, 2014 by David A. Brown
While most of the 45 pros fishing the 2014 Forrest Wood Cup qualified via this season’s Walmart FLW Tour, five Cup contenders earned their shot last season by winning angler-of-the-year titles in their respective Rayovac FLW Series divisions.
Varying backgrounds and angling perspectives among the five AOY contenders suggest that the Rayovac legions from coast to coast will be well represented at the Cup. Here’s a look at the divisional qualifiers and their outlooks for Lake Murray.
Tony Davis, Williston, Fla.
Tony Davis is no stranger to FLW competition or championship events. He’s competed in Rayovac FLW Series events since 2001 and made it to the Championship in 2008. He also fished the Walmart Bass Fishing League from 2003 to 2011. Davis topped the BFL’s Gator Division in 2008 and placed seventh at the 2011 All-American.
Now that Davis has a chance to compete at the highest championship level in bass fishing, he’s ready for the wait to end and anxious to wet a line.
“I had to wait a whole year [since qualifying in 2013] to go to the Forrest Wood Cup, and I’m excited,” Davis says. “I’ve been to the Rayovac and BFL championships, but this is the top of the line.”
This will be Davis’ first trip to Lake Murray. He’s heard the tales of the big bass that live in Murray, though he also knows that summer conditions will make them tough to entice. Davis suspects that 15 pounds a day will be strong.
“Shallow-water fishing is my strength,” he adds, “so I’m going to look to shallow water first and then work toward the deeper water. I’ll probably target docks, and if the water’s high, fishing the bushes is part of that shallow-water strength. We’re coming in on a full moon, so bream beds could play a big role in this event.”
Stephen Johnston, Hemphill, Texas
Stephen Johnston is a Rayovac FLW Series fixture, having finished in the top 10 in the Texas Division AOY standings six times since 2007. Those top 10s include an AOY title in 2007 and 2013, and back-to-back runner-ups in 2008 and 2009. He’s also finished in the top 10 in the Central Division AOY twice.
A top guide on Toledo Bend and Sam Rayburn, Johnston has been to five Rayovac FLW Series Championships and the 2010 Invitational, but this will be his first trip to Lake Murray. Based on his experience at home, Johnston is optimistic about how his skills and experience will serve him at the Cup site.
“I think it’s going to fish into my hands” Johnston says. “I hear you can fish deep and chase schooling fish, and I like to do that. I’ve fished Lake Amistad for many years where it’s deep and clear, and Murray is deep and clear, so I’m looking forward to fishing it.”
As for bait selection, Johnston plans to put his Strike King 10XD deep-diving crankbait to work, along with a few Texas- and Carolina-rigged soft plastics.
“From what I’ve read about Lake Murray, it looks like you can still power-fish too,” Johnston adds. “I’ll also have a topwater tied on, in case they come up busting.”
Jeff Michels, Lakehead, Calif.
Jeff Michels is on a tear. What started with Rayovac FLW Series wins on Lake Mead (2007) and Shasta Lake (2011) has led to Michels finishing third in the Western Division AOY race in 2011 and winning it in 2012 and 2013.
After placing 57th in his only prior Cup appearance in 2011, Michels is looking for redemption on a lake that he feels could favor his fishing background.
“The big advantage of being from the West Coast is that you learn to do it all,” says Michels, who will be making his first visit to Lake Murray. “You can treat it [Lake Murray] like a California Delta, where it’s shallow and stained, or you can treat it like a Shasta Lake, where it’s deep and clear with very little structure.”
Off the water, Michels has a high-intensity job as a battalion chief for the U.S. Forest Service’s firefighter division. Just as it takes quick thinking and adaptability to fight wildfires, Michels will be prepared for anything on Murray with a fully open-minded approach.
“I’ve heard a lot about how the bass relate to the blueback herring,” he says of Lake Murray. “I might try the shallow water, but I can always fall back on my deep-water finesse tactics.”
Dan Morehead, Paducah, Ky.
Dan Morehead has fished the Rayovac FLW Series since its inception and brings an impressive resume to Murray. He’s notched 10 career wins – four Rayovacs (including the 2011 championship on Kentucky Lake), two Tour events, four BFLs – and qualified for 13 Forrest Wood Cup events. In addition to a pair of Rayovac Central Division AOY titles (2004, 2013), Morehead has earned Angler of the Year honors on the FLW Tour (2003) and the BFL’s Land Between the Lakes Division (1997).
With all that experience behind him, and having had a full season to get focused on Cup competition, Morehead just might be the man to beat at this event, which sets up to be a classic summertime grinder with extreme heat and free-roaming blueback herring.
Interestingly, Morehead says he’s not going to pre-practice for this year’s Cup. He’ll instead rely on his previous experience on the lake, tempered with a healthy dose of flexibility.
“I think there will be a place for a combination of both shallow and deep tactics,” he says. “Shallow-water success for four days in a row is a little bit of a stretch, so it’s going to take three or four things going on to be successful.
“Weather could play a major factor because I’ve seen cold fronts come through that time of year, but you could also have a tropical depression pass through and dump a bunch of rain on the lake,” he adds. “That’s the reason I’m not pre-fishing: You just don’t know.”
Ultimately, Morehead says he’s all-in for this one
“It’s a championship, so who cares who comes in second? I’m swinging for the fences.”
Joseph Wood, Westport, Mass.
Rayovac FLW Series Northern Division competitor Joseph Wood burst onto the scene with a seventh-place finish in his division’s AOY race in 2012 and a first-place finish last year. Reaching the Forrest Wood Cup after just two seasons has proven profoundly rewarding, Wood says.
“It’s been a dream come true,” he says. “I’ve been fishing tournaments a long time, and to make it to that level is just awesome. Some people try their whole lives to qualify, and I did it in my second season. That means a lot to me.”
Wood, who works as a carpenter in his family-owned business, has visited Lake Murray during the spring spawning season and says he was impressed with the number of big fish he saw and caught. Summer and spring bear little resemblance, of course, so he knows he’ll need to adapt when he returns in August.
“I know that the bass are baitfish-driven; they feed on bluebacks, so I’m going to try to find the schools of bait,” he says. “I know you can get a good topwater bite early, but after the sun comes up the fish move out deep and you’ll have to hit some of those deep points.
“When I was there in the spring, I saw a little bit of grass that was just starting to grow,” Wood adds. “Hopefully that grass will be more developed, and that might factor into the tournament.”
Forrest Wood Cup Info
The 2014 Forrest Wood Cup presented by Walmart and hosted Capital City/Lake Murray Country will be held on Lake Murray Aug. 14-17. Visit ForrestWoodCup.com for more details.